While I should be writing

Language and stories

I’ve been traveling for almost four weeks now, and I have worked. But it’s a funny thing about traveling: I’m often better at finding new ideas than working on the book I should be focusing on. It’s something with being surrounded by all these stories that exists everywhere, and being open to them. In DC I eveasdropped on conversations at bars, thought about what their lives looked like, listed what characterized people in DC, took notes on what people did for a living, and tried to describe all the different places and streets and people I saw. I was completely uninterested in the small English village that just a short time ago seemed so fascinating to me, and thought instead about what would make people in DC kill each other (not politics, much too obvious) and what situations a visiting writer might find herself in.

But Brazil was different. In Santos I could suddenly think about the old idea again. I revisited my English village in my head, and reconnected with the people there that I left behind when I was in DC. I think it’s because I was no longer surrounded by any stories that I could understand. Partly from a strictly linguistic point of view: I write better when I don’t speak the language around me. It’s probably caused by a longing to use more words than “hello” and “thank you” (I also write longer Facebook messages to all my friends). But I think it’s also partly because the environment and culture was so new and foreign to me that I couldn’t grasp any of the stories around me. I knew they existed, I just couldn’t access them. Everything was strange to me: the rythm, architecture, coffee, body language. I could listen to the three old men sitting at the table next to me over three empty small cups of espresso, but I could weave no stories around them. What did they do for a living? Where did they live? Where they friends, collegues, old enemies? Who knows?

But after five days here I have started to find stories again. I’m suddenly alive to the possibilities of it all. Oh, I don’t understand Brazil of course. It’s not a country you understand, even if you’ve lived there for twenty years or, I suspect, your entire life. But I’m beginning to see pontential characters in everyone I meet, and professions, and how people talk to each other, and suddenly I find myself abandoning my English village again and thinking instead of how my determined, settled and effevtive writer would cope here, and who would end up getting killed.

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